Less Immigration = More Taxes?


Goalpost-shifting alert: Restrictionist weathervane Mickey Kaus reluctantly points out that—contra the last 15 years of anti-immigration hysteria—the ongoing reduction in the number of immigrants, legal and illegal, will probably amount to a net negative on the solvency of the welfare state:

to the extent the current immigration debate unexpectedly chases FICA-paying illegal immigrants away, and discourages admitting more legal immigrants, mightn't it by the same token make Social Security less solvent than currently projected? … kf's solutions: a) If the number of illegals actually falls dramatically, that's what will make it possible to eventually get public support for a reasonable increase in quotas for legals; b) Find other ways to make the system solvent–like reducing the benefits of the affluent. If we have to raise taxes or cut benefits a bit more to make up for controlling the borders, it's worth it.

If Kaus genuinely thinks that his border-wall bedfellows will a) develop an overnight enthusiasm for legal immigrants, or b) enthusiastically back an entitlement cut that even Republicans barely bother talking about anymore, then I suspect he's in for a disappointment. But the more interesting tell here is that unless restrictionists unexpectedly develop a complicated starve-the-beast scenario, they're going to have to eventually ditch the whole illegals-are-sucking-the-welfare-teat argument for more traditional phobias, particularly as Boomers retire and Mexico runs out of Mexicans.

For a great rundown of how illegal immigration affects government largesse, scroll down to Shikha Dalmia's contribution to reason's excellent August/September 2006 cover package. Excerpt:

But immigrants aren't flocking to the United States to mooch off the government. According to a study by the Urban Institute, the 1996 welfare reform effort dramatically reduced the use of welfare by undocumented immigrant households, exactly as intended. Another important development happened in 1996: The Internal Revenue Service began issuing identification numbers to enable illegal immigrants who don't have Social Security numbers to file tax returns.

One might have imagined that people earning meager wages and fearing deportation would take a pass on the IRS's scheme. Not so. Each year close to 8 million of the 12 million or so illegal aliens in the country file personal income tax returns using the alternative numbers, contributing billions of dollars to federal coffers.